Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Free Televised Sport For All Bill

Here’s a good dinner party question. Imagine you are an MP. You put your name into the ballot to introduce a private member’s bill and, joy of joys, you have won! You get first shot at introducing a bill on a subject of your choice, and plenty of time to do it. This is a chance for you to make a difference! Even if your bill does not make it into law, it is still a chance to bring an important issue to public attention. What would you do?
This year’s ballot was won by James Wharton MP and he has decided to introduce a bill … on a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU! This is something which has been discussed ad infinitum, has been voted on, has been promised by the Prime Minister, and, frankly, an in-out referendum one day is inevitable. This strikes me as a waste of an opportunity. Many would argue it is an attempt to commit David Cameron so he can’t get out of it at a later date, but if Conservative MPs can’t trust their own leader, it does make it hard for others to do so. And surely there is a specific issue which is close to Mr Wharton's heart.
But I digress, the point of this entry is to imagine that I am in the Commons and I have won the ballot. This gives me the chance to introduce a bill on a topic which particularly annoys me – The Free Televised Sport For All Bill.
In this country we love our sport – we are keen followers of football, cricket, rugby, even darts and snooker. Our Olympics was a massive success.
But televised sport is dominated by the paid TV market, especially Sky, and you could find yourself having to fork out beyond £50 a month just to watch sport on TV.
For example, I learnt the rules of cricket by watching the test series between England and West Indies in 1976 on the BBC. But now a generation of children are growing up and, unless they have Sky, they will have no idea what cricket is - such is the dominance of Sky's hold on the game. By 2025, our test team will consist entirely of people who had Sky in their youth.
Let’s look at the facts. What do we have on free-to-view TV?
-No live Premiership football
-No live Football League or League Cup football
-Some (not all) England internationals, very few from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
-No domestic cricket, not even highlights
-Only highlights of England home cricket matches, nothing at all from overseas
-No boxing
-Only half of the Formula One Grand Prix shown live – shared with Sky
-Half of one major darts tournament – shared with ESPN
-Only one major golf tournament – The Open – with occasional highlights of others
BT Sport are launching a new channel soon – and much has been made of the fact that it is free with BT Broadband – but not everyone has computers.
To its credit, ITV is the only channel seeking to provide free-to-view sport. It has some FA Cup, some Champions League and Europa League games, French Open tennis and other bits and pieces. BBC have no interest in major sports (Sports Personality of the Year is often dominated by people who are never on the channel) and Channels 4 and 5 are too small.
There are some sports which are protected – Wimbledon, the Boat Race, the Grand National, the World Cup, the Olympics, the Six Nations – but can we really trust our politicians and TV companies not to hive these off at some future date?
So my Bill would not only protect our televised sport, but would expand it so that we can enjoy and support our top sportsmen and everyone can watch for free!
The rights for the following will only be sold to someone who commits to putting them on a free-to-view channel:
-At least one Premiership football package (presently 26 games live)
-Live coverage of all competitive matches by the Home Nations
-Live coverage of all England home cricket test matches
-Live coverage of domestic cricket one day finals
-Live coverage of all rugby internationals involving British teams (including the Lions)
-All world boxing title fights involving a British boxer
-The Ryder Cup
-Live coverage of all Formula One races
-Both the PDC and BDO World Darts Championships
That would be a start and would be under constant review.
These are the sort of things that were on when we only had three or four channels – in the era of multi-channel TV there would be plenty of room for all these. My Bill would not stop Sky, BT or anyone else bidding for these rights – but if they did so, they would have to make the event available on a free-to-air channel.
Of course, this Bill would have no chance of becoming law. Not by accident is Rupert Murdoch the most powerful man in British politics. The vested interests of Sky and others have huge influence over our MPs and they will be queuing up for favours to talk the Bill out. But it would bring to the surface the issue of British sport which is becoming more and more denied to the eyes of our people, unless they have deep pockets in tough times.
And the more people see sport, the more they will get behind our sports people, the more we will see encouragement and development of our younger sportsmen, and we will see the result in hopefully future British sporting success.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Why UKIP's Success Could Be Good For The Liberal Democrats

Throughout UKIP’s campaign in recent months, much has been said about the ‘ConLibLab’ consensus, and how they are aiming to break through. And there is no denying that UKIP have achieved spectacular results in this week’s county council elections.
But, as I argued in a previous article (‘The War of Two Coalitions’ – 8 July 2012), if there is a political ‘consensus’, surely it is the two-party coalition between the Conservatives and Labour which has existed since 1945 with the mutual desire of both parties to resist any genuine political change and reforms. Surely we too should aim at bringing this down?
True, at present, the Liberal Democrats are in a national coalition with the Conservatives, but this is a temporary five year deal. At the end of the day, the Conservatives will always side with Labour and vice versa, and resist Lib Dems, UKIP or anyone interfering with their game.
In what ways are the Liberal Democrats closer to those sharing our aim of breaking this consensus?
Voting reform: both the Conservatives and Labour parties have resisted any change to our voting system. In 1979, Labour went back on their promise of PR for European elections in return for the Lib-Lab pact. Granted, the Conservatives allowed a referendum for AV in 2011, but then used their vast resources to shoot it down. Ed Miliband’s support was half-hearted at best. Most of Labour will have remembered that Labour won a healthy majority in 2005 with only 35% of the votes.
On the other hand, both the Lib Dems and UKIP support a campaign for fair votes. Both parties support voting reform, albeit through different methods, they both favour the principle of a PR based system to make a fairer reflection of people’s votes.  Whereas the big two will defend First-Past-The-Post to the death.
Lords reform: Labour decided to backtrack on their previous promises and collude with Tory rebels to block any change to the Lords. Can we trust a future Labour government to reform this retirement home for politicians? Of course not. UKIP, on the other hand, have supported an 80-20 split, similar to previous plans.
Party funding: the Conservative party have vast unlimited resources. Labour, maybe not to the same extent, also has immense wealth. Lib Dems and UKIP, on the other hand, both raise money with car boot sales and quiz nights. I don’t know UKIP’s views on party political funding but I imagine they would be open to change.
Written constitution: both parties have floated the idea of a written constitution to establish the rights of the individual and the powers and limitations of the legislative and executive bodies. This is something which could be worked on.
Right to recall: both parties support the right to recall MPs for misconduct, for example, over expenses, something the big two have always resisted.
These are just a few examples, and a browse through UKIP’s constitutional policy document is interesting reading, but it is clear that, when it comes to changing the system, and the ‘political consensus’, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP are both in favour of drastic changes to the status quo, and have much more in common with each other than either do with the Conservatives or Labour.
But what about policies, I hear you say? Yes, it is true that on EU membership, immigration and the environment, the two parties are far apart – but there may be elements where we can work together – the basic tax rate for example where both support taking the minimum wage out of tax. We have proved we can work with the Conservatives, despite the large policy gaps that are there and still exist.
And we are not talking about a formal coalition or agreement. What I would like to see is the Liberal Democrats and UKIP working together on political and constitutional reform alongside liked-minded people from other parties to finally bring our politics into the 21st century (it has barely made it to the 20th).
The point is: both parties will remain on the long-term fringes of British politics unless we see genuine political change in this country.
Already some Conservatives are talking about Con-UKIP council administrations to 'bring UKIP back'. Many Conservatives see UKIP as a temporary group of ex-Tories all waiting to dash back home once we are out of the EU. Then, before we know it, we will be back to the world of Con-Lab majority governments – ‘back to normal’ as the media would have it.
It depends on whether UKIP genuinely want to become a long-term political party in their own right. And whether they would join those of us who cry out for modernisation and political reform.
But, for now, I cannot be sorry to see more votes go to UKIP and away from the Con-Labs. Every success for UKIP is a success for those of us who genuinely want to break down the ‘political consensus’ and, with that in mind, UKIP successes could be good for the Liberal Democrats - so perhaps we should wish them well.